Police filed sedition charges against executives of a private Islamic school in Thailand’s Deep South after receiving a formal complaint from the military that the learning institution had links with rebels, officials said Thursday.
Security forces searched the Bakong Pittaya School in Pattani province's Nong Chik district on Jan. 27 and found anti-government and rebel paraphernalia, along with bomb-making materials and road-drilling equipment, Maj. Gen. Jatuporn Kalumpasutr, commander of the Pattani 46 Task Force, told reporters.
“There could be some teachers using this school to indoctrinate the ideology of fighting against the state, syphoning funds to finance violence activities. They sabotage the state education system, killing teachers from state-run schools to force students to attend this kind of school instead,” Jatuporn said.
“Officials found key evidence leading to a belief they embezzled government subsidies and welfare for students and teachers as well as funds for student lunches and clothing to fund violence,” Jatuporn said, without elaborating.
The school receives 33 million baht ($1.05 million) a year from the state’s free-education-for-all program, he said.
Jatuporn said the school listed 121 teachers, of which 76 were bogus, who collected about 12 million baht ($381,000) in annual salaries. Those funds likely were syphoned to serve extremist purposes.
The Nong Chik district police said the school’s executives were charged with sedition, embezzlement and criminal misconduct, but declined to disclose details or the names of those charged. Sedition carries a maximum sentence of five years.
‘Nothing to do’ with rebel networks
The owner of the school told BenarNews that he learned about the proceedings after a military briefing, but had not received any notification from the police.
“We did not know yet which executives were charged. We are ready to clarify the circumstances around the charges,” said Uzman Abdulmanae, who owns the school’s license.
“We have nothing to do with all those networks, which we were implicated of having connections,” he said, vowing to keep the school open.
A recently arrested suspected insurgent implicated the school with the rebels, Jatuporn said, adding that ongoing investigation had produced witnesses whose statements led to last month’s school raid.
Jatuporn said school executives and teachers were linked to prominent militant leaders and secretly supported violent activities, including a twin bomb attack that injured more than 80 people at the Big C department store in Pattani on May 9, 2017. Jatuporn did not provide evidence to support his allegations.
In late 2015, Thai authorities seized the Jihad Witaya School in Pattani’s Yaring district. The school was closed down following a security raid in 2004, after which officials determined that the school had provided weapons training for young insurgents.
Doonloh Wae-mano, the school’s former headmaster who lives in exile in Malaysia, was promoted top leader of Thailand’s strongest insurgent group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), according to Thai officials.
Violence in the Deep South has killed about 7,000 people since the decades-old separatist insurgency re-ignited 14 years ago. The insurgents are seeking greater autonomy from Buddhist-ruled Thailand, which annexed the southern border region that was part of a Malay Muslim sultanate in 1909.